Heirloom Sewing – Making Your Own Fabric with Ribbon and Lace

Webster’s Dictionary defines “heirloom” as “something of special value handed on from one generation to another.” That’s what heirloom sewing does — it makes you feel that you are getting a bit of the romantic past of sewing and continuing a tradition.

A couple of Saturdays ago, Evelyn Cummings taught another group of us the art of heirloom sewing. Just like the first group, Evelyn took us through the basics of heirloom sewing of understanding how to make the most delicate corded pintucks with the pintuck foot and twin needle. For most of us, the pintuck foot was either a new purchase or an unused foot in our presser feet collection.

<Tip Alert!> The trick to remember when using your twin needle is to have the thread unwind from the spools in opposite directions. So, if your left needle is unwinding counter-clockwise, then your right needle should unwind clockwise. Evelyn suggests tracing the unwinding pattern in the air with your finger to make sure that it’s correct.

For those new to heirloom sewing (me being one of them), heirloom sewing opened up a new set of vocabulary for the bits and bobs.

  • Insertion lace — It is even on both sides. It is intended to be inserted
    between two other laces or fabrics.
  • Embroidered insertion — A wider, embroidered trim designed to be inserted between two laces or fabrics.Heirloom sewing lace elements
  • Bridging lace — Can be laddered or criss-cross, as shown in this example. The openwork is perfect for weaving ribbon through.
  • Edging lace — (Not shown here). What you normally think of when speaking of lace, where one edge is pretty and most likely scalloped and the other edge is straight or plain, intended to be inserted into a seam.
  • Martha’s Favorite Batiste — Named for Martha Pullen, who popularized heirloom sewing and the founder of Sew Beautiful, you know the magazine that usually has the pretty, frilly things on the cover. Evidently, this is Martha’s favorite fabric to use when heirloom sewing. 100% cotton woven with a light hand and somewhat sheer. Perfect for camisoles and nightgowns. But you don’t need to use Martha’s Favorite (it can be pricey); there are other cotton batistes available. Once you touch the batiste, it makes you think of what you’d wear on hot, humid days when the air conditioning is on the fritz and you’re holding an ice cold ice tea in a tall, sweating glass.
  • Twin needle — Two needles connected with one shank. Unlike a serger, where the needles are completely separate, the sewing machine isn’t able to hold two needles, so the twin needle is used. There is a triple needle, but I haven’t yet ventured into trying that — yet. Twin needles come in varying sizes, depending on the space width between the needles. There is actually a recommended size for the exact number of grooves in your pintucking foot. However, as long as the needle can cleanly go through the hole of your foot without hitting your foot plate, you can use the twin needle. The closer the needles are together, the finer the pintuck. If you use a wider twin needle, your pintucks will be flatter, even when corded. I know. I tried. But you can also play with tension a bit to tighten your pintucks.
  • 60 or 80 weight thread — This thread is thinner and finer, so when you create the pintucks, the thread looks like it’s part of the fabric weave. When you “roll and whip” the laces together, the fine thread looks as if it’s part of the lace weaving, creating barely a bump of a seam. The picture at the top of this post shows the backside of a rolled and whipped bridging lace to the embroidered insertion.
  • Silk ribbon — Not the polyester type. The silk ribbon glides through your fingers in wonderful tactile sensation. It feels light and weighty at the same time. This is used to thread through the bridging lace in pretty patterns.

On To The Techniques

Open toe sewing foot

Open Toe Foot

“Roll & Whip” is the delicate zig-zag that joins the laces, edgings and fabric together. As you sew with your Open Toe foot at a length of 1.0 and width of 3.5,  the thread wraps around the edges and brings it into a little rolled seam. The thread seems to wrap its arms around the edges into a tight little hug. It’s magical. You feel like you’re making lace yourself.

Pintucking is probably the quintessential characteristic of heirloom sewing. Ok, plus lace. Evelyn’s kits provided Pearl cotton thread to slide under the pintucking guide to create corded pintucks. This gave the pintucks some weight. It’s a bit tricky to thread under the foot, but a dental flosser helped! Then you have to hold the pearl cotton as you start stitching on a line that we drew on our cotton batiste. It takes a bit of coordination at first. After you create the first row of pintucking, you can use the grooves in the pintuck foot to guide the next pintuck to be parallel. After a few rows of pintucks, I couldn’t help but to stop and run my fingers over the crisp mountains and valleys.

And to think that my mom made pintucks with finger pressing and stitching down the edge, one mini tuck at a time. Mom didn’t have a pintucking foot on her industrial Singer.

It took us a whole day. Learning and making mistakes on our practice pieces, then piecing together a panel for the camisole front. None of us finished during class, but we had so much fun learning a new, old technique. Here’s one panel finished. I haven’t yet finished my camisole, but since Evelyn might join our meeting next week, I’d better get on it.

[Update] For more heirloom sewing inspiration, see the recap from the January meeting when Evelyn first introduced heirloom sewing to us.

What next?

Being the break-the-rules sewer that I am, I’ve been looking for bridging and insertion laces in other colors. Wouldn’t a shirtdress made from menswear shirting look so pretty with some pintucks and insertion lace? Or how about a black on black camisole? How far can you stretch once you understand basic heirloom sewing techniques?

In one of my next posts, I’ll explore my pintucking foot and twin needle a little more. Playing with different cord types under the pintucking. Changing the color of the cording under the pintucking or changing the number of cords. Who says pintucks have to be straight lines? Can my pintucking foot handle following waves? What would playing with decorative stitches using the twin needles produce? Here’s an inspiration from downunderdale’s blog:

7 thoughts on “Heirloom Sewing – Making Your Own Fabric with Ribbon and Lace

  1. Great post Tina. Evelyn is a fabulous teacher, and the techniques aren’t difficult. I’m looking forward to finishing my camisole and moving on to incorporating the techniques in linen blouses and nightwear. Then it will be on to learning hemstitching with wing needles.

  2. Thanks Tina. You really took terrific notes or have an incredible memory. Your post is super-useful and I’m printing it out and saving it!

  3. Just found this sewer’s blog post about her efforts to an heirloom inspired shirt. She has a different way of attaching her laces for fabric heavier than batiste.

  4. Pingback: A Foot For All Seasons: Adjustable Binding Foot « ASG Chicago

  5. Pingback: Add Dimension With Corded Pintucks « ASG Chicago

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